OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Violence on Bay Area Rapid Transit has resulted in three homicides over the last week with the latest being the fatal stabbing of an 18-year-old woman as she stepped off a train Sunday night.
BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas called the homicides ‘an anomaly’ at a press conference on Monday.
“It’s rare that we have a homicide so, of course, this is ramped up to the highest priority when you have three deaths,” he said. “It doesn’t matter that we have one person in custody on one — so that person’s in custody and will be held accountable. We have pictures of the other two. These are all very serious crimes whether they happen on BART or right outside our station.”
Crime on BART trains and in the system’s stations has been a hot button issue for nearly a year. BART Police says it has ramped up patrols and working video cameras have been placed throughout stations and on the cars.
Rojas said officers were at the MacArthur Station at the time of Sunday’s deadly attack.
Nia Wilson and her two sisters were traveling on BART Sunday night when they stopped to help a woman struggling with a stroller exit a train. It was at that moment that a man — identified as John Lee Cowell, a transient with a history of violence — pulled out a knife, slashed Nia across the neck and stabbed her sister, Latifa, before fleeing. Nia’s wound proved to be fatal while her sister was being treated at a local hospital.
“It was a very random attack that occurred at MacArthur,” Rojas said. “We had officers at the station. In order for that to have been prevented, it would have been very difficult. You would have had to be standing right next to the individual. You can’t have an officer on every square inch of a station.”
Station video cameras captured Cowell fleeing the station. He was also recorded in the parking garage getting rid of his clothing. He allegedly discarded the large knife outside the station where police found it.
An intense manhunt of the areas Cowell was known to frequent was underway. But the incident reinforced the fears many transit riders have had since the violence escalated on BART. Tragically, Nia Wilson was among those.
“My baby didn’t deserve this,” said Nia’s mother — Alicia Greyson with tears streaming out of eyes. “She hated BART. She was always saying, ‘Mama, I’m scared of BART.'”
On July 21st, BART officers found 47-year-old Don Stevens lying unconscious on the platform at the Bay Fair Station a little after 1 a.m.
“They (BART police officers) were unaware if it was a medical aid situation or a crime,” Rojas said. “There were no witnesses.”
Stevens was rushed to the hospital and died of his head injuries on Sunday. Detectives reviewed video from a train and determined Stevens was the victim of a violent assault.
“We reviewed our train car video,” Rojas said. “What we saw was an assault on Mr. Stevens and it appears to be he is in some kind of verbal altercation or argument with an individual on the train. Then a third individual who doesn’t appear to be connected with the (altercation) walks up and punches Mr. Stevens with a closed fist on the side of the head…You see Mr. Stevens go down to the ground.”
Rojas released images of the suspect in the assault and asked for the public’s help in identifying and locating him.
The third homicide stemmed from an altercation at the Pleasant Hill station on July 18th. The 51-year-old victim — Pittsburg resident Gerald Bisbee — got into a verbal altercation with another passenger. The altercation turned violent. Bisbee was assaulted and the suspect — Abdul Bay — was taken into custody after a lengthy foot chase.
Bisbee was treated for lacerations on the lip and his knee. He was later found dead inside his home.
Rojas said the coroner had determined Bisbee died after his knee wound became infected. The DA was trying to determine what crime to charge Bay with.
BART police have 25 officers below their optimum staffing level and still have to patrol 110 miles of rail line and 42 stations on a system that carries two million riders a week.
“We can’t concentrate our officers in one particular location because we have to cover all of the system,” said BART Deputy Chief of Police Lance Haight.
BART now has working cameras in every car and is increasing patrols, but one thing it doesn’t have are any metal detectors.
BART Board President Robert Raburn had no easy solution to the problem either.
“This was an incident that occurred at a station where police were at, so we are at a loss as to how to protect passengers from somebody that is trouble a vicious individual,” said Raburn.